Monday, January 22, 2007

Blast from the Past

Yesterday there was a great slate of games on television. Nearly every match I watched was exciting and fast paced and held my rapt attention until the final whistle. Don’t worry, Real Madrid. I’m not talking about you.

One of the most interesting games I watched yesterday, however, was one that was played more than five years ago: last night Fox Soccer Channel aired the famous 2001 match between England and Greece that led to England finally qualifying for the World Cup Finals in Asia. It was an exciting game best remembered for David Beckham’s perfectly placed free-kick, but for me there were two other things that really stood out for me.

1). The first was how much better the game flowed than what I am usually watching on television today. At first, I could not fathom why, but eventually I did figure it out. There was no diving! Or, almost none. But for the most part, when someone was knocked down, they simply got up and kept playing. It was almost as if everyone was playing as genuine sportsmen.

Contrast that with the sport today: everyone knows that the 2006 World Cup would be best known for its diving if not for my friend Zinedine’s head-butt. But this diving is starting to seep into league play, and it seems as if it is worst in Spain. Yesterday Real Madrid’s match with Mallorca was a virtual festival to the art of diving; even the announcers on GolTV don’t seem to care anymore. A fistfight almost broke out between the two teams when Real’s Rudd van Nistleroy didn’t kick the ball out of bounds on a breakaway when a Mallorca player went down. Rudd claimed he didn’t see the player fall, but what wasn’t acknowledged was that, of course, the player in question had dived anyway. It makes the football brutal to watch, and makes the game itself much less beautiful.

2). Watching this game from 2001 also hit me when I realized how long this core of guys from England were playing together. Beckham, Gerrard, Neville, Ferdinand, etc., were all there in 2001 just as they were there in 2006 in Germany; presumably some of them will still be missing penalties in Europe 2008 and beyond. Watching them play together when they were so much younger alternatively amazed me and also made me a little sad that this group of guys could never get the job done.

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